By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The United States and the Philippines have reached a 10-year agreement that would allow a larger U.S. military presence in this Southeast Asian nation as it grapples with increasingly tense territorial disputes with China, White House officials said Sunday.
Two Philippine officials confirmed the agreement to The Associated Press before the White House announcement.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement would give American forces temporary access to selected military camps and allow them to preposition fighter jets and ships. It will be signed Monday at the main military camp in the Philippine capital, Manila, before President Barack Obama arrives on the last leg of a four-country Asian tour, following earlier stops in Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.
A Philippine government primer on the defense accord that was seen by the AP did not indicate how many additional U.S. troops would be deployed "on temporary and rotational basis," but it said that the number would depend on the scale of joint military activities to be held in Philippine camps.
The size and duration of that presence still has to be worked out with the Philippine government, said Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asian affairs at the White House's National Security Council.
Medeiros declined to say which specific areas in the Philippines are being considered under the agreement, but said the long-shuttered U.S. facility at Subic Bay could be one of the locations.
The two Philippine officials spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the pact before it is signed.
The defense accord is a new milestone in the longtime treaty allies' relationship and would help address their respective dilemmas. With its anemic military, the Philippines has struggled to bolster its territorial defense amid China's increasingly assertive behavior in the disputed South China Sea. Manila's effort has dovetailed with Washington's intention to pivot away from years of heavy military engagement in the Middle East to Asia, partly as a counterweight to China's rising clout.
"The Philippines' immediate and urgent motivation is to strengthen itself and look for a security shield with its pitiful military," Manila-based political analyst Ramon Casiple said. "The U.S. is looking for a re-entry to Asia, where its superpower status has been put in doubt."
The convergence would work to deter China's increasingly assertive stance in disputed territories, Casiple said. But it could also further antagonize Beijing, which sees such tactical alliance as a U.S. strategy to contain its rise, and encourage China to intensify its massive military buildup, he said.
Hundreds of American military personnel have already been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002 to provide counterterrorism training and to serve as advisers to Filipino soldiers, who have been battling Muslim militants for decades.
The agreement states that the U.S. would "not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines" in compliance with Manila's constitution. A Filipino base commander would have access to entire areas to be shared with American forces, according to the primer.
There will be "utmost respect for Philippine sovereignty," it said.
Disagreements over Philippine access to designated U.S. areas within local camps had hampered the negotiations for the agreement last year.
The agreement would promote better coordination between U.S. and Filipino forces, boost the 120,000-strong Philippine military's capability to monitor and secure the country's territory and respond more rapidly to natural disasters and other emergencies.
"Pre-positioned materiel will allow for timely responses in the event of disasters — natural or otherwise," the primer said.